Posted December 13, 2010 12:55 am by with 44 comments

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It appears as if it’s not just the poor businesses in Europe but now sites of all different kinds that have a funny view of Google as a search engine. I say funny because they apparently have decided that in order to get ranked (or retain rankings that they have lost) they need to implement the latest technique in SEO which is complaining about fair treatment from Google.

An article in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend reports

Google Inc. increasingly is promoting some of its own content over that of rival websites when users perform an online search, prompting competing sites to cry foul.

The Internet giant is displaying links to its own services—such as local-business information or its Google Health service—above the links to other, non-Google content found by its search engine.

The complaints are coming from some big players which makes this whole thing all the more interesting.

Those companies say their links are being pushed lower on the results page to make room for the Google sites. Critics include executives at travel site, health site and local-business reviews sites and, among others.

“There is no denying that today Google is competing [with many websites] for the same Web traffic and the same advertising dollars,” said Jay Herratti, chief executive of CityGrid Media, a unit of IAC/InterActiveCorp. that owns Citysearch and sister sites and

These cries of foul are coming from sites that for years have been getting the bulk of their traffic from Google. Now that Google has made some significant changes in how they present information, especially in the local space, the big sites in the Google index are crying foul. And, rather than work to figure out how Google is doing this and what exactly Google is looking for, they are reverting to the same trick that kids do when they have something taken from them which is to whine.

TripAdvisor LLC Chief Executive Stephen Kaufer said the traffic his site gets from Google’s search engine dropped by more than 10%, on a seasonally adjusted basis, since mid-October—just before Google announced the latest change to the way its search engine shows information about local businesses., whose top source of traffic is Google, reviews hotels and other businesses frequented by travelers.

OK class, let’s go over this again. Google is a company not a government agency. They can do whatever they want to do and there is literally no basis for anyone to cry foul if they feel they are not being treated the way they should be. Personally, I am glad that Google doesn’t simply serve up a list of information aggregators (most of whom are just glorified directories of some nature really). People go to Google for direct information and being passed off to another source that requires more search to get to the answer is a bad result for a Google user.

For these companies to hold their breath and kick their feet because Google has taken away their search lollipop is absurd. Google is not a government entity that is designed for handouts and ‘fair’ treatment. It’s a business that has done something better than anyone else and as a result most people turn to them for answers. That’s not being a monopoly that’s simply being better than every other competitor. In capitalism, that’s what wins. We are still a capitalist economy and country for now so just stop whining!

Google responded in the article with the following

“We built Google for users, not websites, and our goal is to give users answers,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “Sometimes the most useful answer isn’t ’10 blue links,’ but a map for an address query, or a series of images for a query like ‘pictures of Egyptian pyramids.’ We often provide these results in the form of ‘quick answers’ at the top of the page, because our users want a quick answer.”

Honestly, it’s getting really old to listen to companies treat Google like they actually are owed something from the search engine. They are owed nothing. There is nothing that says that once rankings are achieved they will always remain the same.

I would suspect that there are plenty of smaller TripAdvisor like sites that would love to have a chance to unseat the big sites that rank ahead of them. They get the fact though that sites like TripAdvisor, WebMD, Yelp and Citysearch have distinct advantages over them due to scale and, dare I say, having a better mousetrap. As a result, these larger and more established sites dominate. I don’t hear these big players crying for more fair treatment of their smaller competitors in the search engines, do you?

As I have said on many occasions before this writing, I am not a Google apologist. I don’t get paid by Google. Heck, I literally don’t even know anyone there so there is no other motive I would have to defend the search engine other than the fact that it’s good at what it does. Is there something better out there? Not presently and I think we would all love to see a real competitor to Google rather than the half-assed efforts of the Bing – Yahoo Alliance. The reality is though, that Google works and it works better than anything else at the scale to which it operates.

For fun, though, let’s just look at how ‘unfair’ Google seems to be to TripAdvisor as an example.

Here is the result for the search term “New York hotel”.

What Google gives me is hotels, just like I asked. Then it shows me TripAdvisor after it lists specific hotels because the TripAdvisor site is not about a hotel but it’s about many hotels and it requires more searching. The searcher now has options. Mission accomplished. Oh and maybe the real problem is that Expedia ranks higher than trip Advisor in the organic space?

Now here are the results for a search for “New York hotel reviews”

Seems to me as if this is the exact right way to represent this result and TripAdvisor has the number one position. Google nailed it.

I am sure there are plenty of examples of search results that are perceived to be skewed but that happens to everyone. That happens to plumbers, lawyers, doctors, coffee shops etc everyday in the SERP’s and guess what: it should. There are no squatter’s rights in the search engines. They are earned and they are earned based on criteria. It’s just like since not everyone can get into Harvard that doesn’t mean Harvard is doing anything wrong, they are just doing it the way they see fit. Is it fair? That’s not even important because it is impossible to be fair to everyone. Just get over that idea because it’s not possible.

So if you are having trouble with Google and their way of ranking sites make sure you add to your list of best practices to whine about everything. Many of the big boys seem to be doing it so it must be right. Right?

  • Hi Frank,

    I would rate this post as one of the best I have read in the last couple of weeks. I liked the way you defended google and every word makes sense.

  • Mentis

    Very much valid whining. Just like microsoft gave windows media player installed with windows, google is giving local/finance free with main search results.

    • And that is exactly why you get a mac, bro.

  • I am in between two minds about this issue – not whining because of the change of layout and loss of traffic (it’s their site they do what they want with it, and it’s our job to find new ways of driving traffic to our site) but the fact that Google aggregates your content and displays it in such a way that the visitor doesn’t come to your site to find what they are looking for.

    • Well said Leo. Google crawls your site and uses it against you to enrich themselves.

    • Well let’s say you’re a hairdresser. If a user is looking for your hours or address, and they can get it faster, who cares if they visit your site? Isn’t getting customers in the store your business model, not traffic to your site?

      • Considering the state of many businesses web sites Google is actually facilitating business that could be lost if the searcher ended up on the business’ site.

        In the end it is about conversions. If Google facilitates a boost in revenue does it really matter whether they hit your site or not?

        @Mike If there wasn’t Google how would you be promoting your online presence? They enrich themselves because they provide a valuable service. That’s capitalism last time I checked.

  • So at the end how does the whining practices by the specified websites get the love from Google(New SEO Best Practice=Google Love)? In terms of: publicizing reports about their drops!

  • Hey, I want to thank u for publishing this article….it helped me a lot.

  • If anyone’s online marketing solely depends on Google for traffic, they are shortsighted. All your eggs in 1 basket is not ideal. Bing might not be the chosen one to defeat mighty Google, but they still provide quality traffic. Again, any business should not be relying on Google completely.

    “For these companies to hold their breath and kick their feet because Google has taken away their search lollipop is absurd” Well put Frank 🙂 enough with the whining

    • If all Google did was deliver search results, you’d have my whole-hearted support. But that’s not all they do.

      Google has branched out into delivering the services, the information, the technology and the products that users come to the site to search for. And this only after establishing itself as the leading provider of search results in the world.

      Face it, if google had started out selling Google Analytics THEN put itself forward as the leading provider of lists of good analtyics providers, the average consumer wouldn’t trust them because they would clearly have a strong bias towards their own product. If they didn’t they should get out of the space.

      Google has come at it the other way – they have established themselves as impartial, all knowing, all seeing – the provider of information on all things. Period. To now go into competition with those businesses they index is, to some degree, disingenuous. The average internet user is hoodwinked into seeing the search results as impartial when in fact they’re far from it.

      And that sets the stage for unfair business practises that are the very heart of anti-trust legislation. Should they be forced to drop their own products – heck no. Should they be forced to add a disclaimer to all “google product” search results that clearly informs the user that the product is in fact sponsored by Google and that Google has a financial incentive to send you there? Probably.

  • Erica

    Do you know who Aaron Wall is, by any means?

    • @Erica – Who he is? Yes. Know him? No. He is one of the top names in the SEO industry and has been for a long time.

      • Erica

        He has got an interesting opinion about this whole google “thing”. I think you should have a read because somehow you keep missing the point. No offence.

        • I think when you compare one person’s opinion against another, it’s just that–and opinion. Then to say that someone is missing the point–that is just your opinion.

          Of course, all in my humble opinion. 😛

        • I’m not sure Frank has missed the point though, and I’m not sure that Aarons opinion and Franks aren’t on the same page. On the one hand Google are using Trip advisor data to support their Google places listings, so trip advisor have said we don’t want you to do that, good for them. On the other hand they are complaining that Google in’t sending them as much traffic. What it comes down to is that Trip advisor are throwing their toys out of their pram because they can’t have it all the way they want. They want Google to promote them, but they aren’t willing to accept that the way Google does that has changed.

          If they decide they don’t like how Google works any more and withdraw, fine and fair play to them, but the whining is a whole different matter, and quite frankly tedious because Google doesn’t owe them a thing at the end of the day.

    • Aaron’s a great guy. Loves to dig into data and Google’s algorithms.

  • Joshua Corbelli

    Interesting post. Seems like this is the path of least resistance/effort. I don’t want to make such a sweeping generalization to say that with the influx of SEO service companies, each finds itself in the competitive throes of the market, and those with less to offer the end user, those who maybe aren’t quite the firm they thought they were, are finding themselves grasping anything their grasps will hold on to. My purpose is not to say all companies do that. But certainly there are those less qualified. There are those looking to stay alive.
    Great post, I’ve subscribed to the feed. I look forward to more.

  • Bo

    “We built Google for users, not websites, and our goal is to give users answers”

    Huh, how about that? A company that makes its service EASY for the end user. I agree with you Andy, bravo to Google for cutting the BS out and giving users a direct answer.

    I wonder if this is their way to combat a lot of the useless results in their effort to ‘clean up’ the web.

    • Awwwww geeez did you really have to post about whining. Come on why did you have to do that?

  • Great post! Clearly the most specific you are to search engines, the better results will come up. This article just explained how powerful location + long tail keywords is.

  • “Oh and maybe the real problem is that Expedia ranks higher than trip Advisor in the organic space?”

    Agree with much of the rest of the article Frank, but that part made me smile a bit considering Expedia owns TA so I doubt they’d be *too* upset in this case 😉

    • @Matt – Point taken. I t would be just like the Internet culture though that they would still compete on some level.

  • For Google to “compete” with customers is a conflict of interest. In light of their massive profitability, it seems greedy at best, and corrupt at worst.

    No problem for me, Google will collapse under it’s own weight if it contines doing more and more evil. I used to be a big fan of Google but more and more as time goes on I find myself liking other companies more. Even (gulp) Microsoft…

  • This ++:

    “Honestly, it’s getting really old to listen to companies treat Google like they actually are owed something from the search engine. They are owed nothing. There is nothing that says that once rankings are achieved they will always remain the same.

    I hear the “Google is violating my 1st Amendment rights” bit all the time. I explain that Google is a private company, not the town square.

    I am no stranger to the Google-smackdown, either. It’s no fun when your revenue stream gets cut by 2/3rds. In my case, I happened to know exactly what I did wrong (, oh the days…) BUT I didn’t go around trashing Google for censoring me. I got legit, and built better sites.

  • I agree, these “big” companies need to stop crying and start “working” like the rest of us. You can be certain that even though Google has changed some of it’s pages to create a “better” experience for their searchers, they still are geared around displaying the most relevant data. If the Google users decide that they don’t like it, they will just go someplace else.

  • Ray

    I think it’s ridiculous that Google’s competitors are whining about rankings under the war-cry of monopolies are evil. Google placing their own products on top is their right, not an abuse of power. If Google deliberately removed their competitors out of their index, without just cause, then that would be an abuse of market dominance. I simple haven’t seen evidence of such behaviour. Perhaps these whiny competitors should spend their legal budget on SEO, SEM and PPC instead.

  • Thank you to everyone for al of the great comments, additional information and more.

    This is what we truly love to see at Marketing Pilgrim. We are the conversation starters and we know that our readers are among the smartest folks out there. All we need to do then is “light the fire” and everyone can have a say and learn something from other readers. VERY COOL!

    Thanks again. Our readers are the best. We can say that because we’re not Google, you’re our readers and honestly we don’t care what anyone else thinks :-).

  • What a great post and well said. It sounds like the cereal maker complaining their product isn’t at eye level in the stores.

  • Thanks for this article Frank – it’s a refreshing break from all the um, whining, that I see concerning Google from the SEO industry.

    While, as you note, some of the voices in this cacophony of criticism are now emerging from “big” players, this SEs whining about Google’s algorithm and business practices is nothing new. In fact, there is something of a cottage industry of Google detractors out there. I’ve even seen one luminary SEO whine (to paraphrase) “how come I”m the only SEO that calls Google out on their crap?” Well, that is certainly not so.

    Criticism of Google is one thing – and, indeed, observations concerning how Google’s algorithm works (or misfires) is useful information in crafting SEO strategy and, I believe, useful to Google itself in fine-tuning its algorithm (witness their response to criticisms of how DecorMyEyes was ranking as a result of negative reviews). But the expectation that Google somehow owes site owners high rankings that they perceive they deserve is quite another.

    This is most prevalent among site owners who, having relied heavily on Google traffic, are impacted by a change that sees that traffic drop. Rather than reaming out Google, these site owners should reflect on the risk to which they’ve exposed themselves by relying so heavily on a single source of traffic. While historically such criticisms have resulted from algorithm changes that result in ranking changes there has, interestingly, being an outcry related to more recent search innovations. Namely, that Google (following on Bing’s lead, in my opinion) has more and more taken to displaying information relevant to a query directly in the SERPs, rather than simply presenting links to sites. “How dare you display the date for when a user queries ‘when is fathers day 2011’ when you used to send them to my site for that line of information!” Again, as search engines evolve, so necessarily do SEO techniques.

    At the end of the day, too, I think that the bulk of this whining is misguided – particularly those criticisms devolve into speculation about Google favoring particular sites, or brands, or optimization techniques. Google harps on and on about how their mission in organic search is to deliver the most relevant results for a query to their users. With good reason: they understand that this is at the core of their business model, and if they were to start skewing their results to lean toward any other goal aside from user satisfaction, then their business model would be at risk.

    • @Aaron – Thanks for sharing your thoughts with our readers! Make sure you come back and keep checking in. We would love to hear from you and all of our readers more!

  • Does this mean I can now whine at Yelp and CitySearch for filtering my clients’ good and legitimate reviews, but leaving poorly written negative reviews which probably were posted in to get customers to pay to remove bad reviews? I think I will give it a try.

  • Brandon

    I think people sometimes believe that Google = the internet, and therefore it regulates all activity online. I’m glad to see others have the same opinion as me about Google.

    I agree with others that it’s never fun to see your rankings drop, or get frustrated with AdWords. However, they are a private company, and as a website owner you have the ability to block from displaying your page if you don’t want to be involved.

    For the rest of us who use Google as a marketing tool, it’s up to us to play by their rules – they don’t owe you anything.

    If you build all your success around Google rankings, you’re doing something wrong.

  • Kevin

    With Google Health, it is placing its OWN CONTENT first – no more algorithm. Yes, it’s content licensed from others, but it is Google’s content. They tried to create Knols and hoped they’d be heavily linked to and end up ranking first, but it didn’t work. So they just went ahead and put their own content first. I agree it’s a private company and can do whatever it wants, but let’s stop calling it a search engine.

  • Simon

    I think most of these companies are whining because some of them probably have long established relationships with Google in which they spend 6 or 7+ figures per month in AdWords. When you break it down, any company in any industry would probably be upset if their $Million+ partner starts to take back from them what they once got for free.

  • I love how you specify that google is not a gov. agency and I’ve always kept that in mind, but at the same time they have a lot of “power” and many things could change if Google wants to… Imagine if a spammer manages to rank a website that gives an “insider stock tip” before the actual company in the SERPS giving fake information, or a site stating something weird about a presidential candidate a few days before the elections. We can all design websites that “look and feel” credible! Google is a private company but they have a lot of responsibility, you could virtually bankrupt a company or change an election results just by ranking fake information and I’m sure they know this…

  • Defiantly agree with the view of Frank. If Google apply any mischievous acts, they have to face a big problem ahead. Lets see how the changes bring search revolution!

  • Jason

    I have to say, I am really shocked by the cavalier response to some legitimate criticisms of Google’s moves of late particularly in the search and IM communities. I wonder how many people would be so cavalier if their traffic plummeted on account of Comcast and other ISPs deciding to send their traffic to competing sites they owned?

    No one is arguing that Google’s a privately run business and is entitled to do whatever it wants with it, to an extent. Still, this direction by Google should be seen as pretty troubling because it inevitably calls into the question of the integrity of Google’s search results. You can cherry pick all you want, but you can’t say rankings are earned based on objective criteria when the company evaluating those criteria has a financial incentive to put their thumb on the scale.

    Not to mention the fact this barely scratches the surface of the inevitable anti-trust and FTC issues that will come of this

  • Donna Harris

    In the United States, we have something called Anti-Trust Laws that protect and promote capitalization and competition by not allowing one company, whether they are private or not, to dominate through vertical integration.

    Google was designed to be a search engine to find all of your websites but has recently crossed the line by competing with their own clients. In addition, they now sell e-books competing with retailers, contract with the government to sell documents as noted in the Washing Post last week, are an email provider, etc.

    I agree they are a fabulous search engine but how far are they going to be allowed to go before the FCC and the FTC start looking into possible anti-trust violations should be the real question.

    Unfortunately, centralized information inevitably leads to content bias, access to correct information and censorship.

  • Good quote “There is no denying that today Google is competing for the same Web traffic and the same advertising dollars”

  • I fully agree! Great work Frank!

  • Avesome information.. Great sharing thank you very much Frank..